by Tasha Seegmiller
One of the things that's surprised me the most as I’ve advanced in this writing journey is how many people change agents, editors, publishing houses. It’s not something that is discussed widely on the internet, but it happens. A LOT.
Why do these changes happen?
Part of the problem is that writers forget they are allowed to have questions, and they will have questions – questions about something related to publishing, something that their agent or editor might know, but for reasons including mental health issues, insecurity about writing, or a desire to not be that client, they have each paused and let the stress fester a little.
It can be a very scary thing to send an email to someone who you respect, but with whom you have some feelings of frustration, whether it be something that you don’t understand as well as you should, feedback that wasn’t provided when you thought it would be, or writerly imposter syndrome in general.
For these kinds of situations (and so many others in my life) I reach into the vault of brilliance provided by Brené Brown – this time from her book Rising Strong. In it, she states repeatedly about the importance of acknowledging the story we are telling ourselves. Please note that this isn’t the story that is true or the story that is rational – it is the story we are telling ourselves.
For example, I endure depression. I don’t like to say I suffer from it, though sometimes I do. So, the voices that tend to visit me circulate around being enough of whatever the flavor is of the day. I talk to myself as I’m getting ready for the day, greeting those thoughts when I am able to recognize as depression thoughts by their name (our theme song for this meeting is “The Sound of Silence.” The Disturbed version is best for me).
If I am able to tell when I’m in a depression cyclone and when I am having valid concerns, it helps. Then, I choose key moments to share this reality with the professionals I work with.
I do NOT recommend this conversation take place at the beginning of the relationship. I DO think it is something that I think should be shared in close partnerships, and a quality agent or editor relationship should be a close partnership.
5 Key Reminders for Starting the Conversation
With that out of the way, the courage comes in. There are some key things to keep in mind when starting such a conversation:
1. Do NOT write/call when you are on an emotional rollercoaster.
There are going to be times when the initial response to something sends your thoughts and feelings on unpredictable loops and that is not the time to talk.
I have a colleague who has a sticky note on her computer that says “24 hours.” As soon as she has an email/voicemail/hears of a conversation that gets her heart racing, she looks at it and waits. This wisdom works for many situations. Practice it often and even in excess.
2. Always, always, start with a humane greeting.
A sincere inquiry into how things are going, an expression of gratitude for what has been done. Agents and editors work very hard for a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to be part of that. That’s amazing. Express your gratitude often.
3. Lay the foundation for where you are coming from.
- “One of the things that I was wondering . . .”
- “I’ve always been the kind of person who . . .”
- “A question that I have had for a while is . . . “
One of the things to remember with this step is that you can come across as accusatory VERY easily. That is not what you want to do.
This is where Brené Brown comes in. You have to convey the story you are telling yourself. It can be incredibly scary. It can feel terrifying. But honest, true expression wins over and over and over.
4. Present options for resolving the issues you feel need to be addressed.
This can be asking for some particular document that you have heard about but not seen. This can be a request to talk more in-depth in the future. This can even be an estimated timeline to receive feedback.
Some candid advice about this kind of openness: one big course correction every once in a while is necessary but equally necessary is that you, as the author, do everything in your power to make any necessary minor modifications as the journey toward your publication goals continues.
It is not healthy for individuals within the relationship, or for the relationship in general, to lock everything up, let it build, send an email full of courage and vulnerability, and then start over.
5. Recognize you may not get a response that has concrete answers.
There is so much uncertainty within the world of publication – the relationship you have with the people who are interested in helping you meet your goals should not have that uncertainty.
While no one can predict how the world of publishing will continue through 2020 and what it will look like when it emerges, YOU still have the right to know what these people are feeling in regards to your writing. And if you aren’t certain if what you are sharing has the appropriate tone, ask a trusted confidant/friend/spouse to do a read-through for you.
For many writers, these kinds of moments have made them realize that the relationship they have with their agent or editor isn’t what they thought it was. That is a whole other blog post for another time.
But remember, you and your writing support team are working together in a professional partnership. If the relationship you have with your agent/editor is as strong as you’d like it to be, vulnerability and courage will reward you with peace of mind, and that is priceless.
How have you approached tricky conversations with your agents, editors, or critique partners?
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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is an MFA candidate in the Writing Program at Pacific University and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven, is the mom of three teens, and co-owner of a soda shack and cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.